It depends upon what you call blue

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 184].

To Charles Baxter [Colvin 1912, pp. 39-40]

[Menton,] December 4 [1873].

My dear Baxter,

At last, I must write. […] I must say straight out that I am not recovering as I could wish. I am no stronger than I was when I came here, and I pay for every walk, beyond say a quarter of a mile in length, by one or two, or even three, days of more or less prostration. Therefore let nobody be down upon me for not writing. I was very thankful to you for answering my letter; and for the princely action of Simpson in writing to me, I mean before I had written to him, I was ditto to an almost higher degree. I hope one or another of you will write again soon; and, remember, I still live in hope of reading Grahame Murray’s address. […]

Andrew Graham Murray (1849-1942), 1st Viscount Dunedin, had a distinguished legal career, becoming Lord Justice-General and Lord president of the Court of Session []

[…] I have not made a joke, upon my living soul, since I left London. O! except one, a very small one, that I had made before, and that I very timidly repeated in a half-exhilarated state towards the close of dinner, like one of those dead-alive flies, that we see pretending to be quite light and full of the frivolity of youth in the first sunshiny days. It was about mothers’ meetings, and it was damned small, and it was my ewe lamb – the Lord knows, I couldn’t have made another to save my life – and a clergyman quarrelled with me, and there was as nearly an explosion as could be. This has not fostered my leaning towards pleasantry. I felt that it was a very cold, hard world that night.

My dear Charles, is the sky blue at Mentone? Was that your question? Well, it depends upon what you call blue; it’s a question of taste, I suppose. […] Is the sky blue? You poor critter, you never saw blue sky worth being called blue in the same day with it. And I should rather fancy that the sun did shine, I should. And the moon doesn’t shine either. O no! (This last is sarcastic.)

‘Is the sky blue at Mentone?’ []




Mentone is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and has always had a very warm corner in my heart since first I knew it eleven years ago. […]

11th December. […] I live in the same hotel with Lord Salisbury. […] He has black whiskers, […] and has been successful […] in raising some kids; rather a melancholy success; they are weedy looking kids in Highland clo’. They have a tutor with them who respires Piety and that kind of humble your-lordship’s-most-obedient sort of gentlemanliness that noblemen’s tutors have generally. They all get livings, these men, and silvery hair and a gold watch from their attached pupil; and they sit in the porch and make the watch repeat for their little grandchildren, and tell them long stories, beginning, “When I was a private tutor in the family of,” etc., and the grandchildren cock snooks at them behind their backs and go away whenever they can to get the groom to teach them bad words. […]

Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 9th Earl of Salisbury, and later three times Conservative Prime Minister, portraited in 1872 by G. Richmond []

Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil in the 1880s []


Sidney Colvin will arrive here on Saturday or Sunday; so I shall have some one to jaw with. And, seriously, this is a great want. I have not been all these weeks in idleness, as you may fancy, without much thinking as to my future; and I have a great deal in view that may or may not be possible (that I do not yet know), but that is at least an object and a hope before me. I cannot help recurring to seriousness a moment before I stop; for I must say that living here a good deal alone, and having had ample time to look back upon my past, I have become very serious all over […]. If I can only get back my health, by God! I shall not be as useless as I have been. […] – Ever yours, mon vieux,

Robert Louis Stevenson



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